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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Five spots where freshmen might fit

By Michael Rothstein

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ideally, this conversation would not happen at Michigan or many other BCS-level programs this fall or any fall. But, things occur because of injuries, attrition and coaching switches so it leads to college coaches looking at guys they recruit and saying the same thing.

Which one of these guys will be able to play right away?

In basketball this is a way of life. In football it can get dangerous, depending on the competition. As Michigan builds up its roster, it has had to rely on freshmen less and less, but this season the Wolverines still will need to look to some first-year players to be key contributors on offense and defense.

Here’s a look at five freshmen -- or spots -- where you could see rookies this fall.

Taco Charlton
Freshman DE Taco Charlton (33) showed in the spring game he'll be ready to contribute early this season.
1. Taco Charlton will be a contributor this season. The NFL-sized defensive end was in high school a few months ago but by the fall don’t be surprised if he forces his way into the rotation at defensive end. Frankly, if Frank Clark had not had a breakthrough spring, Charlton could have very well ended up the starter at rush end at the beginning of the season. He likely won’t beat out Clark, but don’t be surprised if he ends up playing some rush end in games either situationally or to spell Clark because defensive coordinator Greg Mattison likes to rotate his defensive linemen. With Brennen Beyer moving to linebacker, this could mean Charlton, Clark and Mario Ojemudia in another year of a three-man rotation there. Don’t be surprised if Charlton pushes to make it a split-time situation with Clark by midseason.

2. Jake Butt will play, too. This is probably the least surprising of all the early enrolling freshmen, but Butt showed enough in the final spring practice to think Michigan will use him in some way in the fall. Don’t be surprised if Butt is mostly a special-teams player, but considering the pass-catching tight end depth behind sophomore Devin Funchess is Butt and walk-ons (A.J. Williams is still mostly a blocking tight end), Butt will likely not have the chance to redshirt. Add that Michigan likes to have some freshmen on special teams and it makes sense Butt will end up in a role of mostly special teams with some tight end contributions this fall.

3. Michigan will need Shane Morris to be more ready than anticipated. This was already a given once Russell Bellomy tore his ACL and will not have surgery for another couple of weeks. After seeing Brian Cleary and Alex Swieca in the spring scrimmage, both of them could play sparingly if need be, but if starter Devin Gardner gets hurt, it will need Morris to have a stronger command of the playbook than most freshman quarterbacks. Ideally, programs would like to have quarterbacks and offensive linemen redshirt since they are the most difficult positions to learn and play from a knowledge and strength standpoint. While Michigan should be deep enough to redshirt all of its offensive linemen this fall, it might not be able to do that with Morris.

4. Other than Charlton and maybe Dymonte Thomas, don’t expect to see freshmen playing defense. Yes, some will end up not redshirting and play some special teams -- perhaps Mike McCray II if Michigan views him as a SAM linebacker in case Cam Gordon or Beyer were to get hurt -- but Michigan has enough depth on its entire defense that for the first time since before the Rich Rodriguez era, playing true freshmen on its defense will not be a necessity. Charlton and Thomas might force their way on the field with outstanding play, but many of their defensive players for the future will have a chance to redshirt. Some of the current upperclassmen who did not redshirt could have used that opportunity, but Michigan ended up not having the necessary numbers.

5. At least one freshman running back will play. This isn’t much of a surprise considering Michigan’s situation in the backfield. Considering walk-on freshman DeAnthony Hardison, who wasn’t even on the roster given to media on Saturday, received a good chunk of carries in the game and both coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have said that there hasn’t been much separation among the bunch on campus, look for Derrick Green, Deveon Smith or Wyatt Shallman to push for playing time. They’ll still have to contend with motivated redshirt senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is coming off a broken leg, but there is a large opening for carries in the backfield.